29 November 2017
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eleventh and twelfth periodic reports of Slovakia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Juraj Podhorsky, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, explained that the Ministry of Justice had drawn up an amendment to the Criminal Code in order to investigate more effectively the crimes of extremism and racially motivated crimes. The Government had also revised the Strategy for Roma Inclusion, which focused on inclusive education, more effective provision of subsidies for marginalized Roma communities, and on the increase of financial literacy for the Roma living in marginalized communities. In 2017 the Fund for the Promotion of the Culture of National Minorities had been established. Its role was to preserve, express, protect and develop the identity and the cultural values of national minorities, and to develop and support intercultural dialogue and understanding between Slovaks and citizens belonging to national minorities. The most important public policy document that included measures aimed at eliminating racial discrimination was the National Strategy for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, approved by the Government on 18 February 2015. A complementary role was contained in the Concept of Combatting Extremism 2015-2019, which was a comprehensive programme of the Government that defined strategic priorities of Slovakia in the area of the prevention and elimination of radicalization and extremism, and associated anti-social activities that threatened fundamental rights and freedoms.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts welcomed the legal progress made in Slovakia, namely the adoption of the Asylum Law, the Law on Foreigners, the Law on Employment, the Law on Legal Aid, and the Law on Recognizing Professional Qualifications. They also commended the fact that the Anti-Discrimination Law had opened more space for temporary compensation measures. Experts voiced concern about the historic discrimination of the Roma population, anti-Roma discourse and racial messages spread in the political arena and in the media, police brutality against the Roma, Roma’s lack of access to adequate housing, education and healthcare, segregation of Roma in education and healthcare, forced sterilization of Roma women, the functioning and independence of the National Human Rights Centre, misconceptions about Muslim migrants and their ability to integrate into Slovakian society, anti-trafficking efforts, racism in sports, human rights training for public servants, definition of extremism, the primacy of the Convention in the domestic legal system, and the separation of powers.
In concluding remarks, Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, appreciated the State party’s attitude in admitting shortcomings. Remaining challenges included access to healthcare and education by Roma, police violence against Roma, and hate speech by some politicians and high-ranking officials.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Podhorsky expressed thanks for the opportunity to hold a dialogue with the Committee, which was a chance to learn from each other. The fruitful dialogue with the Committee would allow Slovakia to adopt additional measures in order to enhance the implementation of the Convention.
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the fruitful discussion and engagement with the Committee.
The delegation of Slovakia included representatives of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Ministry of Transport and Construction, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hold a thematic discussion entitled “Racial Discrimination Today.”
The combined eleventh and twelfth periodic report of Slovakia can be read here: CERD/C/SVK/11-12.
Presentation of the Report
JURAJ PODHORSKY, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Slovakia’s most important public policy document that included measures aimed at eliminating racial discrimination was the National Strategy for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, approved by the Government on 18 February 2015. The Action Plan on the Prevention of All Forms of Discrimination 2016-2019, the Action Plan on the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance, and the Action Plan for the Rights of National Minorities and Ethnic Groups 2016-2020 had been adopted to fulfil the objectives of the strategy. A complementary role was contained in the Concept of Combatting Extremism 2015-2019, which was a comprehensive programme of the Government that defined strategic priorities of Slovakia in the area of prevention and elimination of radicalization and extremism, and associated anti-social activities that threatened fundamental rights and freedoms. The increase in the radicalization of populations in countries outside the European Union that were affected by internal conflicts, the formation of armed groups with extremist ideologies in those areas, and the involvement of citizens of European Union countries in such conflicts directly affected the security of the European Union, including Slovakia. The Government thus deemed it necessary to focus on the prevention of radicalization and the elimination of the factors that caused it. In September 2015, in line with the demands of civil society, the Council for Human Rights had moved under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice. The Chairs of the Council were the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. The Council met four times a year and it had equal representation of non-governmental organizations and the Government. It was a place for open dialogue in which State organizations informed, reported and explained their actions, and the Council adopted common proposals and recommendations.
The Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and non-governmental organizations, had drawn up an amendment to the Criminal Code in order to investigate more effectively the crimes of extremism and racially motivated crimes. The amendment specified the definition of a racially motivated crime and it extended the definition of incitement to hatred, and the definition of extremist material. The Specialized Criminal Court dealt with crimes of extremism and the Ministry of Justice had set up new expert areas of political extremism and religious extremism. As of 1 February 2017 the crimes of extremism had been investigated by police experts from the National Unit for the Fight against Terrorism and Extremism. In order to increase the level of protection of the rights of victims of crimes, including hate crimes, the Act on Victims of Crime had been adopted. The Government had revised the Strategy for Roma Inclusion, which focused on inclusive education, more effective provision of subsidies for marginalized Roma communities, and the increase of financial literacy for the Roma living in marginalized communities. Currently, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family was implementing two national projects to help people endangered by poverty and social exclusion, including marginalized Roma communities. The Government was working to improve the housing conditions for Roma, as well as to reduce health disparities between the Roma and the majority population. In line with the Committee’s recommendation to address de facto segregation in schools, the State School Inspectorate had consistently highlighted cases of segregation in schools. The education sector had been modifying the objectives and procedures for inclusive education with a focus on the better identification of individuals’ needs.
In 2017 the Fund for the Promotion of the Culture of National Minorities had been established. The main purpose of the Fund was to preserve, express, protect and develop the identity and the cultural values of national minorities, and to develop and support intercultural dialogue and understanding between Slovaks and citizens belonging to national minorities. An important and sustainable instrument for the protection of the cultural heritage of national minorities was the system of specialized museums within the framework of the Slovak National Museum. The Act on the Use of Languages of National Minorities provided care for professional terminology in the languages of national minorities. In January 2014, the Government had approved the Integration Policy of the Slovak Republic, which aimed at raising awareness about the legal status of foreigners living long-term and legally on the territory of the country. The current migration and refugee crisis required a comprehensive solution, namely changing the approach from an internal to external dimension, and addressing the situation in the countries of origin and transit. During its presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2016, Slovakia had presented a concept of effective solidarity, whose main idea was to provide assistance to the extent and in the way Member States determined. Accordingly, Slovakia had deployed nearly 600 policemen in the period 2016-2017 under joint operations and pilot projects organized by the FRONTEX, as well as under bilateral agreements. In the field of international refugee protection, Slovakia continued to participate in the programme of the humanitarian transfer of refugees in the form of temporary placement in Slovakia before their permanent resettlement to a safe third country, Mr. Podhorsky concluded.
Questions by Experts
JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, welcomed the legal progress made in Slovakia, namely the Asylum Law, the Law on Foreigners, the Law on Employment, the Law on Legal Aid, and the Law on Recognizing Professional Qualifications. The Anti-Discrimination Law had opened more space for compensation measures.
However, Mr. Cali Tzay noted that he had not found a reference to any cases of racial discrimination brought before the courts. Slovakia had started indictment proceedings against six Roma persons who had attacked police, and it seemed that those proceedings wanted to send a clear signal to Roma victims of police abuse. There was a lack of disaggregated data for socio-economic indicators for different groups. There was a discrepancy in the number of Roma provided by the State party and by the European Union.
Roma had suffered from historic discrimination and that discrimination persisted nowadays. The lack of disaggregated data made it difficult for the Committee to assess the progress made in the elimination of discrimination against Roma.
The National Human Rights Commission was not in line with the Paris Principles. Its mandate, independent and overall functioning should be strengthened. The position of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities was vacant. What were the special measures rolled out for national minorities? How was the National Strategy for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights implemented in practice?
Mr. Cali Tzay expressed concern about the anti-Roma discourse and racial messages spread in the political arena and in the media. What measures had the State party taken to counter them and prosecute their authors? Some 17 Roma people had been injured by the police in the village of Bronika in 2015. Had those acts been investigated and what were the outcomes of that inquiry?
Mr. Cali Tzay pointed out to the lack of independence looking into complaints against the police in Slovakia, and to police brutality against Roma, even against Roma children. Responsible police officers had been absolved of responsibility because the video recordings of police violence had been found to be inadmissible. Witness accounts had also been found inadmissible. There were also cases when police officers threatened Roma women.
The Roma people lacked access to adequate housing and education. Within the education system they suffered from segregation and high levels of school dropout rates. There was the lack of respect and a high level of negligence in the health system for the Roma people.
Asylum seeking children had problems accessing education and healthcare. There were also misconceptions about Muslim migrants and their ability to integrate into Slovakian society, Mr. Cali Tzay noted.
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, reminded that the Committee had previously identified four issues to be included in the interim report. The Slovakian authorities had submitted the interim report on time. The issues concerned the prosecution of racially motivated violence and crimes, racist discourse in the media and political life, de facto segregation in the education system, and the implementation of the Convention, especially as far as it concerned local self-governing bodies. Mr. Kut informed that more concrete information was needed about the prosecution of racially motivated violence and crimes. What was the outcome of fighting extremism? The State party had invested great efforts to deal with de facto segregation in the education system, but Mr. Kut asked for concrete results. He reminded that the implementation of the Convention at the local level concerned the infamous decision of some municipalities in Slovakia to build walls around Roma settlements.
Experts drew attention to the experience of Roma women with reproductive health services in Slovakia, namely the segregation of Roma women in maternity departments and inferior services provided to them. Roma women were the last to be seen by medical personnel and were disrespected by medical doctors. The medical
care provided to Roma women was of lower quality. There were also problems of lack of hygiene and overcrowding in hospital wards intended for Roma women.
Experts inquired about Slovakia’s anti-trafficking efforts, especially the vulnerability of Roma girls to human trafficking. The Government should reinvigorate its efforts to implement the Roma inclusion strategy, in particular to keep Roma children in schools, in order to decrease their vulnerability to labour exploitation. Were the Roma adequately represented in decision-making posts?
The number of the Ruthenian minority had decreased to some 15,000. Could the delegation explain that significant decrease?
Were there any statistics on the length of court proceedings? Was it possible to suspend the application of the Data Protection Law on statistics for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes?
In Slovakia, like in many other East European countries, football was being increasingly used as a political weapon. For example, a Japanese player had to quit his team in Slovakia and return to Japan. How did the State party deal with racism in sports? Were there any measures to prevent hate speech in schools?
There should be more focus on human rights training of public servants in order to reduce segregation and discrimination. What was the birth policy? Had any inquiries been carried out into forced sterilization of Roma women?
The African community in Slovakia constantly faced racial discrimination and violence. What steps had been taken to prosecute hate crimes against Africans and to educate the general public about the values of tolerance?
What were the temporary compensation measures and their effects? What was the definition of extremism? How did the Constitutional Court ensure the correct running of the judiciary?
What implications did the Convention have on Slovakia’s legal system? What was the primacy of the Convention over restrictions on fundamental freedoms? Had the Constitutional Court dealt with any complaints on racial discrimination?
Experts inquired about the separation of powers, and the power to appoint and revoke judges.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities was relatively well shielded from any external influence. It cared for the social integration of marginalized Roma communities. Its composition comprised members of different political parties which also contributed to the independence of the Office. The Office of the Plenipotentiary for National Minorities was a completely different office.
As for the actual number of Roma in Slovakia, more than 100,000 people had identified themselves as Roma in the last census. However, the Government estimated that there were many more in reality, but they chose not to self-identify as such. The Atlas of Roma Communities, which was a project of the European Union, aimed to map all Roma communities in the country. According to the Atlas, Roma made up between eight and nine per cent of Slovakia’s population. It was the most heterogeneous minority in Slovakia.
The living conditions of Roma varied. A third of all the Roma lived in similar conditions to the rest of the population, while another third lived in more difficult conditions. Finally, one third lived in precarious conditions, in informal settlements. The Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities coordinated the implementation of the Strategy for Roma Inclusion across different ministries. The Office worked to legalize Roma informal settlements, make kindergartens free of charge for Roma children, improve education for them, and improve employment opportunities for Roma. The Roma Neighbourhood Watch project aimed to employ Roma as communal focal points in 147 municipalities. Slovakia was also using European Union structural funds to finance infrastructure construction in Roma informal settlements.
Slovakia was currently implementing a project on education for national minorities. The Ministry of Education had adopted a new education action plan which aimed to increase the level of education of Roma closer to the national average. The goal was to reduce the dropout rate from elementary schools, and to increase educational outcomes for Roma children. The project Schools Open to All aimed to allow local schools to develop de-segregation plans. As part of those efforts, Slovakia had also joined the European Union Commission’s project Inclusive Schools.
The implementation of the Education Act of 2015 had seen the reduction of Roma children in specialized schools for children with disabilities. In addition, in some schools classes were conducted in the Roma language. Children from socially disadvantaged families were not admitted to special schools; there was a clear prohibition of segregation. Youth workers and school teachers had at their disposal materials of the Council of Europe on human rights, fighting extremism, bullying in schools, including cyber bullying, and hate speech.
The number of the Ruthenian minority was not declining. In 2009, the census recorded 24,200 Ruthenians, and in 2011, there were 33,480 of them.
An inspection service under the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for investigating complaints against police. Supervision was carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office. With respect to the case of police brutality against Roma in the village of Vrbnitsa in 2015, extensive investigations had been carried out, but no clear evidence had been collected and the case had been declared baseless.
Combatting hate speech was regulated by the Action Plan on the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance. The protection of human dignity in the media was guaranteed by the Act on Broadcasting and Transmission. Currently, law enforcement forces received training on hate crimes. In 2017, there were 151 investigations initiated with respect to hate speech. Racist conduct at sport events was regulated through a specific legal act. There were also police officers dedicated to work specifically with Roma communities.
The Slovakian Government had recently adopted a project to help Libya. Most asylum seekers came from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, India, Ukraine and Viet Nam.
In terms of anti-trafficking measures, the Government had conducted public awareness campaigns and inspections of businesses that utilized exploitative labour practices. It had also provided assistance to female victims of trafficking.
As for forced sterilization, Slovakia had implemented measures to prevent those unlawful sterilizations, such as written application by the patient and written consent. There were criminal charges against persons who carried out unlawful sterilization. Compensation was available in line with the Civil Code. Adequate reproductive health services were provided to all vulnerable groups. The Ministry of Health had registered only one case of segregation of Roma women in hospitals. Assistants of Roma origin were employed in order to break down social barriers to the provision of reproductive health services. Another initiative was a project of continuous education of healthcare staff, which was based on the World Health Organization programmes.
The Government would draft legislative changes for the Slovak Centre for Human Rights. As for the nationwide implementation of the National Strategy for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, specific action plans had been defined and they reflected the Strategy in specific tasks. Extremism was defined as crimes of hate speech and intolerance towards individuals belonging to certain ethnicity, religion or race. Victims of extremist crimes were entitled to a broad range of support services.
The Ministry of Justice had tried to adopt measures to accelerate court proceedings, such as court audits and reversal of the burden of proof. The Judicial Council was composed of 18 members. Half of them were elected by judges, whereas the rest were appointed by the Government. There were two types of proceedings of discrimination cases: criminal and civil proceedings.
Turning to religion, the delegation explained that in 2011 almost 2,000 persons claimed affiliation to Islam. But that number could go as high as 5,000. Most Muslims in Slovakia were not migrants. They were well educated and well integrated in society. In Slovakia there was no act prohibiting the existence or construction of mosques. The Muslim community was not homogenous.
Questions by Committee Experts
JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, welcomed the prohibition of specialized education for Roma children, but noted that low performing Roma children could still be transferred to specialized classes. Walls were being built around Roma settlements, which constituted discrimination in the eyes of the Committee. Mr. Cali Tzay also drew attention to negative stereotypes about Muslims, notably to the fact that the Slovakian Prime Minister had publicly stated that Slovakia could not welcome Muslims.
Mr. Cali Tzay highlighted the issue of slow court proceedings that granted compensation to victims. He also voiced concern about the reality of Roma women living in Slovakia, namely their forced sterilization. Had the doctors who had performed forced sterilization on Roma women been prosecuted?
How was the education programme implemented? What were its results? What did the project of Schools Open to All consist of?
Experts inquired about the actions taken against those who perpetrated racist attacks on Africans. They further asked about Slovakia’s plans to participate in the International Decade for People of African Descent. Were there public awareness campaigns on fighting racism and promoting tolerance? Did the State party hold surveys on racism and racial discrimination?
Turning to the independence of the judiciary, Experts inquired about the role and functioning of the Constitutional Court. Experts reiterated questions about the limitations of freedoms and fundamental rights, and about the primacy of the Convention in those situations.
How was the separation of powers ensured and guaranteed? How many cases of racial discrimination had been submitted to the Constitutional Court?
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, reminded that some 150,000 Roma lived in informal settlements, which was a very high figure. What was the timeline for enhancing education and housing for Roma? Were there any targets for Roma teachers? Ms. Crickley voiced concern about Slovakia’s understanding of integration. How was the existence of Roma acknowledged in Slovakia? Were they considered a national minority? How were Roma mediators employed and how did they implement human rights principles?
Replies by the Delegation
The Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities explained that the implementation of legislation and programmes was quite successful. The current Government was trying to implement programmes that would have long-lasting impact, such as combatting segregation in education from the earliest stage. A moratorium on the transfer to specialized schools had been put in place until the end of 2018 after which the whole system would be evaluated. It was true that a small number of walls had been built around Roma informal settlements. The Government could not dismantle those walls, but it had been successful in negotiating with municipalities not to further construct such walls.
Concerning the follow-up on the cases of forced sterilization of Roma women, the delegation stated that in 2003 a group of experts had been appointed to investigate those cases. The Commissioner for Human Rights in 2006 had requested that victims of forced sterilization be compensated. In February 2016, financial compensation had been granted in one case of forced sterilization of a Roma woman. As for birth control, no consensus had been reached among health professionals on how to implement that programme.
The project Schools Open to All which had started in January 2017 aimed to assist Roma children to go through the education system, and to increase the performance of the youngest children. As for special schools, there had been a huge effort to improve the overall system. In 2014, there were 18,400 students in special schools, in 2015 some 18,273 students, in 2016 some 17,837, and in 2017 17,743 students in special schools. Accordingly, eight to nine per cent of students attended special schools. The Government subsidized kindergartens for the poorest children, and it had prepared a new digital project supporting Roma and other minority students to adapt to the educational process.
There were several vacant positions in the Constitutional Court and the Ministry of Justice could not address that situation because it was the President of Slovakia who appointed members of the Constitutional Court.
In 2015 there were 14 asylum seekers from Africa, in 2016 there were 35 of them, and in 2017 there were 17 asylum seekers from Africa. Slovakia did not keep any separate record of attacks on persons of African origin. The most commonly attacked minorities were Roma.
JURAJ PODHORSKY, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, clarified that there were no specific programmes related to the International Decade for People of African Descent. However, the Government did finance development projects in Kenya, South Sudan and Libya.
The delegation explained that in 2016 the Government had set up a website with guidelines on how to deal with hate speech on social networks, including against hoaxes and myths about minorities.
The Convention was part of Slovakia’s legal framework and Convention rights were enforceable and applied in courts. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms and rights could be imposed only in exceptional cases. The Government tried to promote non-political appointments to the Constitutional Court.
The Roma had been defined as a national minority in 1991. At the same time, they were also understood as a social minority. Accordingly, there was double understanding of the Roma community. The Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities was finalizing materials for field workers with the Roma community.
JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Slovakia, expressed hope that when Slovakia next time appeared in front of the Committee, it would be able to share the results of the programmes and strategies it had presented. Much remained to be done. Mr. Cali Tzay appreciated the State party’s attitude in admitting shortcomings. Remaining challenges included access to healthcare and education by Roma, police violence against Roma, and hate speech by some politicians and high-ranking officials.
JURAJ PODHORSKY, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, expressed thanks for the opportunity to hold a dialogue with the Committee, which was a chance to learn from each other. He thanked Committee Experts for their valuable questions and comments. The fruitful dialogue would allow Slovakia to adopt additional measures in order to enhance the implementation of the Convention.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the fruitful discussion and engagement with the Committee.
For use of the information media; not an official record